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Drunk Driving - An Overview

More than 1.4 million drivers in the U.S. were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs in 2001.

The law firm of Thomas J. Quinn has more than 31 years of experience handling criminal matters, including drunk driving cases, in Greenville and throughout Upstate South Carolina. I am ready to put my experience to work defending your future against DUI charges.

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Drunk Driving - An Overview

Drunk driving law is complex and the guidance of a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer can make a significant difference in a defendant's experience and in the outcome of his or her case. If you have been stopped for, arrested for or charged with drunk driving, contact Thomas J. Quinn, Attorney at Law in Greenville, SC, as soon as possible to discuss your options and rights with an attorney who has experience handling drunk driving cases.

As we all know, operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol and/or drugs to a degree that impairs a person's judgment and ability to drive safely is dangerous. Drunk drivers cause tens of thousands of injury-causing and fatal accidents across the country each year. As such, it is punished harshly by the criminal justice system. While drunk driving laws do differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there are certain concepts and features that transcend state boundaries. Both criminal and civil penalties for drunk driving can be harsh and often include:

  • Suspension or revocation of the driver's license
  • Large fines
  • Mandatory substance abuse treatment
  • Jail or prison time
  • Community service
  • Restitution
  • A criminal record
  • Restrictive probationary license programs, including ignition interlock devices and hardship licenses

In addition, the social stigma and effect on your career could result in negative consequences for years to come.

Terminology and elements of drunk driving

The offense of drunk driving goes by a variety of names among the states, including:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Operating under the influence (OUI)
  • Operating while intoxicated (OWI)
  • Driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII)
  • Driving while under the influence (DWUI)
  • Driving while ability impaired (DWAI)
  • Driving under the influence of drugs (DUID)

In the language of the various state statutes, a drunk driving conviction requires driving or operating a vehicle or motor vehicle. While that sounds straightforward, a review of drunk driving cases shows otherwise.

Driving requirement

The requirement of "driving" or "operating" implies that the driver must have some sort of control or command of the vehicle. Guilt or innocence may hang on whether the defendant was actually "driving" in a particular circumstance. What if he or she was just sitting behind the wheel of a car but it was turned off? What if the defendant was sleeping there? What if the keys were in the defendant's pocket and not in the ignition? What if the car was out of gas and could not be started? What if it was idling? What if it was being towed? Courts nationwide have considered various scenarios to determine whether the necessary control over the vehicle was present. The outcomes of these cases have varied by state and are highly dependent upon the unique facts of a particular circumstance.

Vehicle requirement

Cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles and vans are obviously considered to be vehicles for drunk driving law purposes. However, people have been convicted of drunk driving while operating motorboats, mopeds, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, electric wheelchairs, golf carts, riding lawn mowers, bicycles, horses and ATVs. The types of vehicles covered by drunk driving statutes differs from state to state.


One way prosecutors prove driver intoxication is through scientific testing of the amount of alcohol in the body, usually by analyzing the breath or blood. These tests are usually administered by machines, such as the Breathalyzer® or Intoxilyzer 5000. In every state, a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated. However, even a BAC over 0.05 is enough to convict for a DUI in some states if the person shows signs of impairment.

In every jurisdiction, if a person takes advantage of the privilege of driving, he or she automatically consents to state-administered chemical testing to determine his or her BAC. If a driver refuses to take a chemical-alcohol test, his or her driver's license may be revoked or suspended. This is known as "implied consent."

BAC test results over the legal limit are usually presumed to be proof of intoxication. However, defendants may challenge the conclusiveness of the results by showing irregularities in the test administration procedure or problems with the test equipment itself. For example, your lawyer may advise retesting of your blood sample tubes. He or she may be able to obtain exclusion of the original blood test results from the case or even dismissal of the case entirely.

Other types of evidence used by prosecuting attorneys to show intoxication include the drivers' own statements, witness testimony, police observations of behavior, driving patterns and circumstantial evidence. An example of possibly relevant circumstantial evidence is that a defendant, before driving, spent the afternoon at a party where witnesses saw him participating in drinking games with other guests.

Police also gather important evidence of intoxication by administering standard field sobriety tests (FSTs) at the scenes of traffic stops. Common field sobriety tests include:

  • Finger-to-nose test
  • One-legged stand
  • Walk-and-turn test
  • Horizontal-gaze-nystagmus test
  • Picking up coins
  • Counting backwards
  • Reciting the alphabet
  • Throwing and/or catching a ball

Defendants may challenge the validity of FST results by showing irregularities in the test administration procedure, medical conditions that could skew the results or other problems with the testing.

Speak to a drunk driving defense lawyer

Driving is a huge part of the average American's lifestyle, and it can impact every activity we do. We rely on driving to get to work, to socialize, to run errands, to get medical care and for recreation. Licensed drivers transport children, people with disabilities and senior citizens to important appointments and activities. A drunk driving conviction can bring a screeching halt to your life. If you face drunk driving charges, a lawyer at Thomas J. Quinn, Attorney at Law in Greenville, SC, can fight for you and help protect your interests and those of your family and loved ones.

Copyright © 2017 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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